Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team maximized their night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to open the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a third-place finish.
Busch admitted teammate and race winner Denny Hamlin was better, which was a switch from early in the day. The South Point 400 started in the heat of the day, and Busch felt that was when he could race with Hamlin. But when the sun went down, and the lights came on, Busch “lost a little bit” and hit the wall multiple times.
“That doesn’t help things,” Busch said. “The guys did a great job. Thanks to Ben (Beshore, crew chief) and all the guys on our M&M’s Toyota Camry; we were fast, we were frontrunners all night long. Just wasn’t able to get everything we needed to do to for a win.”
The result is Busch’s first top-five finish in the post-season. Busch started the race 10th and finished second in both stages. He averaged a fourth-place running position but only led two laps.
It wasn’t an easy night for Busch and his team. Aside from contact with the wall, early in the night, they had to overcome issues.
On pit road after the first stage, Busch dropped from second to seventh because of a problem with the jack. Early in the subsequent run, Busch reported he had a loose wheel but was saved from potentially pitting under green flag conditions when the caution flew on lap 93.
“I felt like I was looking forward to the lights coming on and us picking up speed and being able to rip the wall a little bit faster,” Busch said. “When we got hit into the fence there off of (Turn) 2 the first time, it definitely knocked speed out of the car. We helped it a little bit, coming to pit road putting the last set of tires on it, and then I got into the fence again trying to get by a lapped car. Not enough room over there, I guess.
“Overall, great job by Ben and my guys on this M&M’s Camry. They gave me a good piece. … Good showing.”
Busch is third on the playoff grid with a 35-point advantage above the cutline going into Talladega Superspeedway.
“I’ve said it, and I’ll say it all the time: if you can go to Talladega and you can come out of there with a 12th-place finish with no stage points, that’s a successful day,” Busch said. “I’ll take that right now if I could skip it.”